A Momentary Flow

Updating Worldviews one World at a time

DrinkPure water filter shows promise for worldwide use
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It’s no secret that hundreds of millions of people around the world have little or no access to drinkable water. While a number of projects are aimed at getting filtration systems to those people, many of those systems require electricity, contain costly materials such as silver, or treat the water at a slow rate. The low-cost DrinkPure filter, by contrast, is simply screwed onto the top of an existing bottle, and can purify approximately one liter (34 fl oz) of water per minute. DrinkPure was conceived by Jeremy Nussbaumer, a student at the ETH Zurich research institute. Working with a team led by ETH’s Wendelin Stark, he’s created a prototype which weighs just 100 grams (3.5 oz) and that can reportedly meet the hydration needs of one person for up to a year, before needing its filtration media replaced. Users simply fill a regular plastic bottle with untreated water, screw the filter onto the neck of that bottle, and then squeeze the bottle to force the water through. Filtration is carried out via a three-step process. A pre-filter starts by capturing large particles such as sand and plant matter. The water then passes through a layer of activated charcoal, that helps remove odors and chemical contaminants. Finally, a proprietary polymer membrane removes bacteria. This polymer was previously developed by two other students, and contains tiny pores that allow water molecules to pass through, while blocking the passage of microbes. Additionally, the filter as a whole is said to be less expensive and easier to manufacture than most conventional filters. While commercial availability of DrinkPure for people such as hikers is a possibility down the road, Nussbaumer first and foremost wants to see it used in humanitarian aid. To that end, he has recently launched an Indiegogo campaign, to fund field testing of the device in Africa. A pledge of US$89 will get you a filter of your own, assuming the funding goal is met. (via DrinkPure water filter shows promise for worldwide use)

Taller, Fatter, Older: How Humans Have Changed in 100 Years - Humans are getting taller; they’re also fatter than ever and live longer than at any time in history. And all of these changes have occurred in the past 100 years, scientists say. So is evolution via natural selection at play here? Not in the sense of actual genetic changes, as one century is not enough time for such changes to occur, according to researchers. Most of the transformations that occur within such a short time period “are simply the developmental responses of organisms to changed conditions,” such as differences in nutrition, food distribution, health care and hygiene practices, said Stephen Stearns, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University. [10 Things That Make Humans Special] But the origin of these changes may be much deeper and more complex than that, said Stearns, pointing to a study finding that British soldiers have shot up in height in the past century. “Evolution has shaped the developmental program that can respond flexibly to changes in the environment,” Stearns said. “So when you look at that change the British army recruits went through over about a 100-year period, that was shaped by the evolutionary past.” And though it may seem that natural selection does not affect humans the way it did thousands of years ago, such evolutionary mechanisms still play a role in shaping humans as a species, Stearns said. “A big take-home point of all current studies of human evolution is that culture, particularly in the form of medicine, but also in the form of urbanization and technological support, clean air and clean water, is changing selection pressures on humans,” Stearns told Live Science. “When you look at what happens when the Taliban denies the polio vaccination in Pakistan, that is actually exerting a selection pressure that is different in Pakistan than we have in New York City,” he said. Here’s a look at some of the major changes to humans that have occurred in the past century or so. (via Taller, Fatter, Older: How Humans Have Changed in 100 Years)

Taller, Fatter, Older: How Humans Have Changed in 100 Years
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Humans are getting taller; they’re also fatter than ever and live longer than at any time in history. And all of these changes have occurred in the past 100 years, scientists say. So is evolution via natural selection at play here? Not in the sense of actual genetic changes, as one century is not enough time for such changes to occur, according to researchers. Most of the transformations that occur within such a short time period “are simply the developmental responses of organisms to changed conditions,” such as differences in nutrition, food distribution, health care and hygiene practices, said Stephen Stearns, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University. [10 Things That Make Humans Special] But the origin of these changes may be much deeper and more complex than that, said Stearns, pointing to a study finding that British soldiers have shot up in height in the past century. “Evolution has shaped the developmental program that can respond flexibly to changes in the environment,” Stearns said. “So when you look at that change the British army recruits went through over about a 100-year period, that was shaped by the evolutionary past.” And though it may seem that natural selection does not affect humans the way it did thousands of years ago, such evolutionary mechanisms still play a role in shaping humans as a species, Stearns said. “A big take-home point of all current studies of human evolution is that culture, particularly in the form of medicine, but also in the form of urbanization and technological support, clean air and clean water, is changing selection pressures on humans,” Stearns told Live Science. “When you look at what happens when the Taliban denies the polio vaccination in Pakistan, that is actually exerting a selection pressure that is different in Pakistan than we have in New York City,” he said. Here’s a look at some of the major changes to humans that have occurred in the past century or so. (via Taller, Fatter, Older: How Humans Have Changed in 100 Years)

Gigantic ‘Energy Duck’ Could Generate Solar and Hydro Power for Copenhagen
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The Energy Duck is a submission to the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) 2014, this year held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Designed by the London-based team of Hareth Pochee, Adam Khan, Louis Leger, and Patrick Fryer, the iconic and engaging public artwork proposal is a renewable energy generator and storehouse, an interactive and educative tourist destination, and a celebration of local wildlife. (via Gigantic ‘Energy Duck’ Could Generate Solar and Hydro Power for Copenhagen | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building)

Is there a period in human development when we have a “teenage brain?”

That’s a great question because there is even the issue that has been raised as to whether adolescence is “for real” in a biological sense. I mean, there’s plenty of cultures where essentially, you know, you’re married off to somebody when you’re 13 or some such thing, and all you are is like an adult with acne, that it’s not a special stage. And the suggestion that this is something that the West kind of invented, dealing with the fact that there’s now viewed as a delay between when one starts one’s main occupation, when one finishes education, and at the earlier end when the hormones start. Ah, we’ll call this magical period in between adolescence. So if it’s just an artificial construct, everything the brain is doing during development should just be in a smooth curve like this, where somewhere arbitrarily oops, that’s what we call adolescence is starting. Made-up concept. But that’s not what you see, because it is distinctive.

Parts of the brain are pretty much going full bore by the time you’re a year old, 5 years old. There’s parts of the brain, the limbic system which is involved centrally in emotion, which are pretty much all there by the time adolescence is starting. Then another distinctive feature of adolescence, which tells you it’s not just this: The hormones start. So what’s the frontal cortex doing there? The easiest picture would be if it’s the one that’s just sluggishly going on. That’s not what you see though. Interestingly, by the beginning of adolescence your frontal cortex is bigger than it’ll be as an adult.

Ingenious: Robert Sapolsky

The primatologist and neurologist talks turbulence—teens, stress, and the information age.

Sainsbury’s supermarket to be powered entirely by its own food waste
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It’s an unfortunate fact that every day around the world, supermarkets throw out tons of food that has spoiled before it could be purchased. While it would be best if that spoilage could be avoided in the first place, British grocery chain Sainsbury’s is taking what might be the next-best approach – it’s about to start using that unsellable food to power one of its stores. Here’s how the system should work … First of all, produce that’s a little past-its-prime but still edible is donated to charities, while food that’s a little older is given to zoos or used in the production of animal feed. The stuff that’s truly rotten, though, is picked up from Sainsbury’s stores across the UK by the same trucks that deliver the fresh food every day – so the trucks aren’t making special trips just to pick up the waste. They return with it to the central Sainsbury’s depot, where it’s subsequently picked up by trucks from the Biffa waste management company. These trucks deliver it to a Biffa-operated plant in the town of Cannock, where it’s fed into an anaerobic digester. Within the zero-oxygen environment inside that digester, bacteria break down the waste to produce bio-methane gas. That gas is then used to produce electricity at the plant. From there, the electricity is fed to Sainsbury’s Cannock store via a 1.5 km (0.9 mile)-long cable. That electricity should meet all of the store’s day-to-day needs, allowing the building to operate independent of the national electrical grid. Any extra electricity that’s not needed by the store, however, will be fed into that grid. (via Sainsbury’s supermarket to be powered entirely by its own food waste)

Sainsbury’s supermarket to be powered entirely by its own food waste
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It’s an unfortunate fact that every day around the world, supermarkets throw out tons of food that has spoiled before it could be purchased. While it would be best if that spoilage could be avoided in the first place, British grocery chain Sainsbury’s is taking what might be the next-best approach – it’s about to start using that unsellable food to power one of its stores. Here’s how the system should work … First of all, produce that’s a little past-its-prime but still edible is donated to charities, while food that’s a little older is given to zoos or used in the production of animal feed. The stuff that’s truly rotten, though, is picked up from Sainsbury’s stores across the UK by the same trucks that deliver the fresh food every day – so the trucks aren’t making special trips just to pick up the waste. They return with it to the central Sainsbury’s depot, where it’s subsequently picked up by trucks from the Biffa waste management company. These trucks deliver it to a Biffa-operated plant in the town of Cannock, where it’s fed into an anaerobic digester. Within the zero-oxygen environment inside that digester, bacteria break down the waste to produce bio-methane gas. That gas is then used to produce electricity at the plant. From there, the electricity is fed to Sainsbury’s Cannock store via a 1.5 km (0.9 mile)-long cable. That electricity should meet all of the store’s day-to-day needs, allowing the building to operate independent of the national electrical grid. Any extra electricity that’s not needed by the store, however, will be fed into that grid. (via Sainsbury’s supermarket to be powered entirely by its own food waste)